Monday, 10 February 2014

Match 9: Livorno

The Italian word for ‘twin’ is gemello. Most teams have other clubs with whom their fans are friendly, and these relationships are known as gemellagi (twinships, like there are with towns). For me, with my Scottish brain, I can’t quite get my head around having any feelings for opposing teams and their fans other than dislike and a strong hope they get humped on match days, but hey, maybe I’m in the minority. It always helps when the other team isn’t in your league or even country, so that then you don’t have to see their fans’ gurning faces twisted in joy as they score another goal against you. Livorno’s fans are in luck then, because thanks to their political leanings they have an international network of supporters, from France through Greece to Turkey, with gemellagi with Olympic Marseille and AEK Athens, among others. One of the most prominent of their foreign-based supporters’ groups is based in Germany, where its members don’t seem to check or reply to their emails, but no matter. I checked out their website which all seems very earnest and well-minded, so they get ten points for effort, but less so for their mastery of the English language.

As you might imagine, Livorno’s fans aren’t bosom buddies with teams whose supporters are more right-minded, so supporters of Inter and Verona can expect a spicy welcome. Lazio too, and famed peacemaker and level-headed chap, Paolo Di Canio, once made a fascist salute during a game between the two teams. 

Away from football and politics, the city rivalry between Livorno and Pisa is famed for its strength. This manifests itself in numerous examples of graffiti around Livorno of: “PISA MERDA” (“FUCK PISA” - their capitals, not mine). There are a couple of expressions they use to bicker amongst themselves with: “Meglio un morto ’n casa che un pisano all’uscio” (better a death at home than a Pisan at the door) snapped back with: “Le parole le porta via il vento, le biciclette i livornesi” (words are whisked off by the wind, and bikes by the Livornese). 

Now, without wanting to offend citizens of either of the cities, neither one of them is anything to really write home about, and yes, I’ve seen the Leaning Tower and the hundreds of tourists all pretending to either prop it up or push it over while grinning for a photo.

This rivalry is classic campanilismo. This is something that if you’ve ever read about Italy before you’ll surely have already come across, but for the uninitiated, campanile means bell tower or steeple. If you’ve been here you will no doubt have noticed just how many churches there are, and so campanilismo is a love of or pride in your local area (i.e. the area in which you can hear your church bell tolling). In a country where many people are born and live most of their lives in the same house or street (certainly in previous generations, although the current financial crisis and high-youth employment is forcing some younger people to venture further afield for work), and often with family members next door or in the building round the corner, the idea of ‘home, sweet home’ runs deep. And one thing that people love more than home comforts is someone or something to mistrust. How could you go wrong if your enemy was an entire town just down the road? Nothing like a common villain to build town unity and identity. And I certainly wouldn’t encourage the people of Pisa and Livorno to unite, hold hands and sing songs, because life would be boring without a bit of a grudge and bile, no? Plus of course, the resulting burglaries and bicycle thefts would overstretch the respective police departments to breaking point.

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